Sunday, May 07, 2006

More Adventures in Raptor Identification

I was standing up by the shed casually surveying the yard when a grey, barred bird about the size of a blue jay flashed by at eye level.

It landed in a nearby tree and stayed long enough for me to walk over fairly close to take a look. Raptor, so small, bluish, merlin? I hadn't really seen it flying clearly, just the flash. Before it landed I even wondered if it was some kind of unknown (to me) large woodpecker (not at all likely). I watched it for a while, while it surveyed the yard with some intensity--with its strikingly large eyes. I went in to get binoculars and my camera, and to my great pleasure it waited in the tree for me to come back.

There was a little blue jay fuss, and one robin might have noticed it, though it wasn't clear--no one else around seemed concerned by its presence. Finally a couple of goldfinches landed in a tree not far away and it made a move. Missed, a flew off to the neighbours' shed roof, and out of sight.

So I went back into the house to consult the guides. Bars on the breast, not streaks, not a merlin at all, but a sharp-shinned hawk. I've seen a sharp-shinned before, harassing robins as a kind of joke I thought at the time--but maybe this bird could take down a robin? I've never seen one this close--and though I knew how small it is from seeing it with the robins, it didn't sink in. Maybe because it is rare to see them close up, but somehow I have a lot of trouble getting raptors into my head. I hope that after yesterday at least the sharp-shinned has now joined the very short list of raptors I can identify with some confidence (northern harrier, red-tailed hawk, kestrel, bald eagle, osprey--and even these can fool me).

The merlin and sharp-shinned links above are to their Canadian Peregrine Foundation Raptor Identification pages--a good resource to which I must remember to turn more often.


Anonymous said...

birdwatching is always an adventure into the land of the unexpected..
I've taken photos (not so pretty to view) of a sharpie dining on an Americn Robin. We had an ice storm and the robin was easy pickings because it was having a hard time finding food and out in the open, exhausted and hungry. The sharpie fed until nothing was left except for feathers and the skull and feet.
Merlins are cheeky falcons and don't spook easily- when you see one, you'll know it :)

John B. said...

I spooked a merlin once by moving towards it for a closer look too aggressively.

Pamela Martin said...

Maybe not pretty, but it must have been amazing to see this little hawk taking down a robin.

One thing I noticed at the raptor ID pages I linked was that the merlin had a much fiercer look than the sharpie--something I'm hoping will help in the future too.

I moved up on this bird very slowly, and avoided looking at it while I was moving, which sometimes seems to help. But even when I was almost right underneath it, it just glanced at me a few times, apparently undisturbed.

Dave Dorsey said...

I'm surprised it din't take a swipe at you. They are very aggressive with very sharp talons. They are neat to watch flying through obstacles. That tail is a heck of a rudder.

Endment said...

We have sharpies here on a regular basis. I watched one take out a blue jay - it surprised me that the sharpie could take down the jay since these jays seem to chase any hawks that come near - guess it caught it unawares.
thanks for the link!

Anonymous said...

Raptors are hard! I think, anway, if only because they're usually far away. The sharpie does happen to be one I'm familiar with because I've had them at the various homes I've had in the last few years. Very nice picture you got, Pamela--your patience and your ability to think like a bird served you well, as they so often do.

Anonymous said...

Raptors are much more easy to identify compared to sparrows and shorebirds. Get the new book 'Hawks from Every Angle'. It's even better than than my well worn Wheeler/Clarks 'North American Raptors.' Both are excellent resources. Sharpies/Coopers are the only raptors that can resemble each other.. but their tail shape and head markings give them away each time. And often, their behavior is a clue. Sharpies sit and wait and Coopers are very aggressive hunters.
I've never heard of a Merlin attacking a person.. but I know a Goshawk will in a heartbeat. While doing N. Goshawk surveys, part of the required equipment was a hard-hat. For good reason :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with cindy that jerry
liguori's hawks from every angle
and brian wheeler's photo guide
to na.raptors are the two best
raptor id books.
I once followed a young broadwing
for 7 poles along a long distance
line and the bird didn't fly until
I was 10 yds. from his pole.I did
get his picture.
To submit pic(s) of your unidentified hawk for a consensus id clik